While of course Memorial Day is a somber occasion, its weekend is the traditional kickoff of summer. My family and I were able to already have a nice mini summer vacation without lining the pockets of the foreign potentates of Wisconsin or Minnesota. We spent two days in Des Moines, right here in good old Iowa. That was plenty far to drive with a three-year-old and a pregnant wife anyway.
On Thursday we left Northeast Iowa early and headed for Adventureland Amusement Park, in the Des Moines suburb of Altoona. Adventureland came into being in 1974 (the same year I did) and is Iowa’s most complete amusement park and resort.
I’ve been going to Adventureland since I was a child. My parents would take us down at least once per summer. They were stockholders in the place, so they got tickets at a deep discount. (To put that into perspective for us kids who didn’t understand stocks, when we asked about it, Dad would point at one of the painted lines in the parking lot and say, “We own that line.”) Since I have so many summers worth of memories there, it felt good to see my little boy on some of the same toddler rides that I rode on, as well as quite a few that they didn’t have back then.
Outside the park we ate a nice picnic lunch that my wife had packed, to save a little money on park food. We didn’t get a chance to go on any “big kid” rides this time. That was fine with me because just going on the “Tea Cups” with my boy made me a little green around the gills.
Although Adventureland remains almost frozen in time from when I was a kid, nothing can shield it from Iowa’s shifting demographics. When I was a kid, it was mostly teenagers running the rides, today it is mostly “seasoned citizens” running them. I guess I’m getting old enough that I kind of prefer them. In another cultural shift, the sound of Spanish language from park guests filled the air.
That night we stayed at Adventureland Inn, located right next door. My son loved its three large indoor pools, my wife enjoyed relaxing and I appreciated Iowa’s only swim-up bar.
The next day we headed for Blank Park Zoo, which bills itself as “Iowa’s WILDEST Adventure.” While there are a few “animal displays” in Iowa (Osborne Park in Clayton County, Bever Park in Cedar Rapids and Fontana Park in Buchanan County being the best examples in my neck of the woods) there are none that truly qualify as a “zoo.” Blank Park Zoo, however, certainly qualifies as a true zoo.
Blank Park Zoo boasts lions, tigers, giraffes, kangaroos, alligators, monkeys and many, many more. My boy especially enjoyed the camel ride as well as riding the zoo train which gives visitors a tour of the zoo. With the picnic food gone, we spent more at the zoo than we did at Adventureland, but it was well worth it.
On the way home we stopped at the Tanger Outlet Mall in Williamsburg. My wife bought some new baby clothes while my son and I tried to make ourselves scarce. Then it was one last meal at McDonald’s and we were home.
It was a great two days in Iowa. The weather was perfect and we all had a great time.
I hope my kids will look back wistfully on memories like these someday, like I do with mine. Maybe someday they’ll be taking their own children too.